About Me

After 23 years as a high school social studies teacher, I have taken a leap into library media.
This blog chronicles my experiences making this transition and my learning in that process.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Overcoming Impediments to Student Close Reading

I was talking with a colleague whose students are engaged in a lengthy research project inspired by Jared Diamond's Collapse. Inspired by this mentor text, students research, create infographics, present to their peers and write about the health and future prospects of our civilization. The problem my colleague was lamenting was that students were, at best, skimming the mentor text. At worst, they were randomly choosing excerpts to share before jumping ahead to the creation portions of the project. Needless to say, without a close reading of Diamond, the final presentations will be superficial and generic. So, my colleague's question was two-fold: 1) why aren't they reading? 2) how can I get them to read?

Here are my recommendations on students and close reading.

For this project in particular I suggested a re-structuring of the student groupings and tasks. As the project is designed now, students work in pairs with each pair presenting the reading about one of twelve different societies. Instead, I suggested, focus only on six civilizations and have four students assigned to a society with two of them responsible for presenting the reading about that society to the class and the other two responsible for critiquing the presentation based on their reading of the same text. They can do this in a fishbowl so the rest of the class is learning the content and how to be critical friends.

Furthermore, I surmised that one reason students weren't reading was because they were given, all at once, the entire scope of the exercise from the initial reading assignment to the final stage that was still weeks away. Students were jumping to the product and skipping the process because they needed more scaffolding. I suggested putting them in groups and giving them the reading assignment as a discrete exercise. Keep their focus in the moment.

Even if the assignment was scaffolded, Diamond's texts have a lexile measure of about 1400. Students need specific support to unpack the text. To that end, I had other suggestions:

Students could keep a dialectical (double-entry) notebook while reading. There are lots of models of these notebooks. Some are basic and have one column designated for student summary of an aspect of the text and the other for student questions based on those summaries. Others give different column headings like "Point of View" or "Comparison" which prompt students to think critically and analytically about what they are reading.

In non-fiction lit circles, students are assigned a focus while reading. They then meet in small groups to share the conclusions they reached given their individual focus and discuss the importance of the reading evidence and insights. Reading roles can be adapted to different texts and types of media. Here are some suggested ones:

  • Questioner: what would you ask the people in the passage if you could? Why?
  • Connector: of what are you reminded when you read this passage? (book, movie, tv, current event…) Why?
  • Wonderer: what do you want to know about this situation? Why?
  • Predictor: what do you think the outcome of the conflict will be? Explain.
  • Passage Picker: select the passage you think is key to understanding the text. Explain its importance.
Partner annotations is one of my favorite tools when a text can be shared digitally. For example, in a Google Doc, two students can share a text and annotate it by inserting comments. When a student highlights a portion of the text s/he thinks is important s/he can add a comment about why it is important, questions it raises, connections to other issues, etc. Paired students can respond to each other's annotations thereby carrying on a dialogue about the text in the margins.

Some of these strategies can be combined to further enhance student close reading. Consider asking students to keep a dialectical notebook using the reading roles as column headings and then bring that notebook to share in a lit circle discussion!

Happy reading!